As one of the authors of ‘Aljamal & Co’, but replying for myself only, I want to deflect a few of Jeff Halper’s misinterpretations. He implies that we disagree that “the time has come to MOVE” whereas it is a matter of record that all of us have been trying to move ODS for years. What is the point of claiming a monopoly on a desire to MOVE?
He also claims that we find it “objectionable” that “communities” or “groups” wish constitutional “protection” against discrimination – a claim so improbable that I can only go back to what we actually wrote, namely that such protection should be codified in constitutional individual rights of free speech, press, political activity and freedom of association, the latter rigorously implying freedom for such associations.
Speaking of the dozen conferences, half-dozen books and several groups exclusively devoted to ODS, Halper says these “previous attempts … failed to take off and become an influential public movement.” Failed to take off, yes, but ODS certainly has achieved the status of an influential goal, solution, or set of ideas. Yet instead of offering a serious critique of why an organised “movement” hasn’t yet emerged – i.e. large membership-NGOs, or political parties, which precisely inside Israel have dismally failed to “take off” despite the courageous efforts of many within Tajamoa (the ‘Balad’ Party) – Halper denigrates all these “previous attempts” (in his mind associated with the Munich Declaration), polemically implying in language not helpful in bridge-building that they are burdered with ideas that are “non-starters” and have “no currency in the political world”.
But Halper’s Answer as to what went wrong – assuming more was even possible – seems to be that we don’t want ethno-religiously-defined collective rights built into the constitution, and he does. Yet instead of polemically re-stating our positions, let’s go deeper. I’ve read through about two dozen democratic constitutions and find only two which explicitly mention the ethnic or religious communities Halper has in mind when speaking of “Jewish Israelis” – those of Lebanon and Kosovo. Far more in terms of language than ethnicity or religion, and almost exclusively in terms of rights adhering not to the language communities themselves but of the individuals in or “members of” those communities, the Canadian, Macedonian and Belgian constitutions do list various groups specifically. From them, and especially from the the Macedonian constitution’s Articles 19 and 20, we can learn. The constitutions of India, South Africa, the U.S., France, Switzerland, Colombia, and many others, on the other hand, do entirely without ‘collective rights’ language. As well as theorising we should look empirically at the results of various historical examples.
Halper also misreads us in insinuating, again improbably, that we think we “live in a society composed solely of individuals” – clearly a straw man with no basis in our text. He moreover then adds the sweeping generalisation that the “Middle East … has no concept of the individual in a Western sense”. Is this a serious, if Orientalist, claim that ‘Middle Eastern’ people don’t have any idea of the CITIZEN, of individual property, of voting by individuals, or that the Koran does not deal with the individual’s proper behavior and relation to God, before whom all individual Moslems are equal? I believe this claim is transparently false. I would in any case ask Halper if this means his proposed constitution would therefore necessarily discriminate against the individual in favour of the collective.
As for our criticism that he falls into the ‘parity trap’ of treating his “two groups” in Palestine as ethically equal, he denies that he is assuming “symmetry between them”. But it is hard to read the granting of collective political rights to the colonising, oppressing group in any other way. At least it is legitimate to ask Halper if there is room in either his program or plan, as we suggest, for explicitly identifying the ethical asymmetries.
Finally we did not, as Halper claims, take “objection to a common civil society”. How could anyone be against such a thing? We only warned against seeing “reconciliation” as a precondition for a political solution, which it is not if we are right that at this stage ‘hate me, don’t hurt me’ is good enough. Such a civil society must emerge bottom-up, not top-down as part of a plan.
I hope my co-authors will correct any false impressions I’ve given, and that others involved in the ODS Campaign will Comment, giving their thoughts on the issue of collective ethnic rights, seemingly the only issue dividing (some of) us.